Ever wonder what it might have been like if Eric Dolphy met, say, Harold Pinter–at Sun Ra’s house? Then try these guys on for size. First famous as a member of New York darlings the Lounge Lizards, saxophonist Nathanson is also cofounder of and guiding force behind the Jazz Passengers, the sophisticated, roisterous, witty, rough-hewn septet from which his quartet is drawn. This smaller and–could it be?–even grittier unit boasts the measure of theatricality that is a key element of Nathanson’s music. (In fact, he’s spending most of this month onstage at the Goodman Studio Theatre, waving melodies in and around performance artist David Cale’s tales of shattered intimacy.) Sharing the front fine with Nathanson is the young vibraphonist Bill Ware, who’s worth the price of admission all by himself. Ignoring the influence of Gary Burton or Bobby Hutcherson, the instrument’s prime modern models, Ware has found a splintered and explosive style; his approach to the vibes will remind you of Monk’s touch at the piano, and I’d be surprised if he hadn’t spent some time with the music of vibist/pianist Karl Berger too. The quartet’s recently released album Little Fred finds them equally at home on moody originals, edgy recastings of jazz standards (“Cherokee” and “Giant Steps”), and an improbably warped fantasy on the Scarecrow’s “If I Only Had a Brain,” replete with a Nathanson vocal that won’t worry anyone connected with Ray Bolger’s estate. Tonight, Schubas, 3159 N. Southport; 525-2508.

Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): photo/Nancy Perlman.